Allegations were originally made by founder's daughter
An independent investigation has upheld sexual abuse allegations perpetrated by Mercy Corps' founder Ellsworth Culver and seven other people.
The US-based organisation, which has its European HQ in Edinburgh, has apologised after it was found to have suppressed abuse claims by its co-founder’s daughter.
An investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh says Culver may have sexually abused up to six children in the 1980s.
The report includes accounts from Tania Culver Humphrey of abuse at the hands of her father and others.
Mercy Corps operates in 40 countries, handling half a billion dollars in annual donations and other revenue.
Humphrey described attacks that took place at home, at Mercy Corps’ headquarters in Portland, Oregon, and on international trips when her father allegedly offered her to men for sex.
On one occasion in Thailand in 1981, when her father worked for a different aid group, she and another girl endured a night of “severe sexual and physical abuse” inflicted by her father and another man.
Five years later Culver, who was by then the president of Mercy Corps, took her to Honduras where she said she saw him abuse children aged from 3 to 14. He also “facilitated her being sexually abused by a foreign military officer” and told her it would “help other children” by supporting the work of Mercy Corps.
The charity’s board admitted to “extensive failures” and expressed “deep regret for failing to understand the extent of the abuse, assist in pursuing justice and potentially prevent further harm” when the abuse was first reported in the early 1990s. At the time its leaders apparently accepted Culver’s contention that his daughter was exhibiting “false memory”.
It was only in 2019 that Mercy Corps finally conceded Tania Humphrey’s claims had credence and issued a statement saying: “When Ms Humphrey’s reached out to Mercy corps in 2018 we had an opportunity to right a wrong. Instead, we failed her with our response.”
Culver stepped down as president in 1994. When he died in 2005 Neal Keny-Guyer, chief executive of Mercy Corps at the time, described him as “just an amazing, amazing guy”.
After Humphrey’s expose, Mercy Corps and its board requested that investigative firm Vestry Laight conduct an independent, external review into what steps were taken when reports of her abuse were brought to the organisation’s attention in 2018.
Also in late 2019, Mercy Corps engaged law firm Nichols Liu to conduct a separate review evaluating its sexual exploitation and abuse policies and their applicability to these circumstances.
Both reviews were published by Mercy Corps on January 29, 2020. In response to the reports, Mercy Corps’ board of directors and executive team announced commitments to restructure legal, ethics and safeguarding functions, update policies and strengthen governance.